Because children are little people, inexperienced in the ways of the world, it’s our job as adults to help them understand the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. So often that explanation comes along with hidden messages about beautiful and ugly, light and darkness. We may not mean for it to, but so much of the media children consume reinforces the idea that beautiful/light is good and ugly/dark is bad and scary.
Some of this is necessary to help children learn what’s safe and the right things to do, but the side effect is that kids miss out on the fun side of scary. Another side effect can be that kids who feel like they’re “weird” or “other” get pushed to the margins, bullied and ignored. That’s certainly not okay. It’s one of the reasons I’m so happy to see that Abigail Larson is illustrating children’s books.
I became acquainted with Abigail’s work about a year ago. A friend mentioned that she “likes to draw the kinds of people you do” — by which I assume she meant ladies in dresses with flowing hair. And it’s true, Larson does like to draw the kinds of things I do, and she’s worlds better at it! On a deeper level, the little Allison in me was attrac
ted to her work because it presented lots of things I loved a child in a way that seemed right.
As a kid, I checked out as many ghost stories as possible and my favorite Barbie was the one with black hair. I regularly demanded that I play Maleficient in pre-school reenactments of Sleeping Beauty, because Maleficient was evidence that scary could be gorgeous. I read the darker-than-Disney versions of fairy tales and thought they were beautiful, so naturally Larson’s work appeals to me (you might remember that I recommended her work in my first post).
In her most recent foray into children’s literature, Larson illustrates re-imagined nursery rhymes. The “rhymes” aspect of Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes is a collaboration between Henry L. Hertz and his sons Josh and Harrison. The poems are darling concoctions, blending nursery rhymes you know and love with gently macabre themes. Most of us know that illustrations bring a children’s book to life and Larson’s work does so beautifully.
Little Miss Muffet is a Witch, who isn’t scared of a spider: she happily tosses him into her stew. Wee Willie Winkie has turned into a werewolf who chases children who aren’t in bed through the streets and Mary has a Hippogriff, rather than a lamb. In Larson’s signature neutrals, punctuated by rich jewel tones, these characters come to life as charming, rather than frightening. Ogres wear intelligent, thoughtful faces and sweet Mary pets her docile Hippogriff as other children run away.
The rhymes are amusing, and Larson’s illustrations show us another side to the “bad guys” of our imagination. Instead of being terrifying, they’re unexpectedly, darkly delightful. That’s not to say they’re not monstrous still, they are, but it’s fun instead of cringe-inducing. The four-and-twenty pixies who were baked into a loaf of bread and set before a queen are laughing as they fall onto the table, clearly pleased by their tricks. Peter, the Goblin eater has a sweet face as he packs the nasty goblins into a pumpkin.
It’s to Larson’s credit that she creates characters that retain their “scary” factor, while still being beautiful and fun. The rhymes, combined with Larson’s illustrations subtly suggest that different isn’t so bad, that “dark” is just another way to exist and that we’ve all got a little monster inside us.
The images in this post were reproduced with Abigail Larson’s permission and she was just as sweet as can be about it. If you’d like to see more of her work, visit the gallery on her website, or skip straight to her store to buy some goodies.
Allison Carr Waechter has carried a little monster inside her since the day she discovered Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrated version of Snow White. Her work-in-progress features a gloomy girl named Edie, who learns that the labels “darkness” and “light” don’t mean much. If you want to see how Edie is torturing Allison today, you might check on her at her website or on Twitter. She’s had her eye on Abigail’s Night Circus work for some time now and her birthday’s coming up.